OSHA’s much-anticipated COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) has been approved, but it is only directed toward the healthcare industry, whose workers are deemed the most at risk to contracting the coronavirus at this point in the pandemic.
Along with the healthcare-only ETS, OSHA released new guidance for general industry employers to help them protect workers who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The science tells us that healthcare workers, particularly those who come into regular contact with the virus, are the most at risk at this point in the pandemic,” Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said during a news conference on the ETS. “Following an extensive review of the science and data, OSHA determined that a healthcare-specific safety requirement would make the biggest impact.”
Walsh acknowledged the ETS was a “long time coming” and that OSHA was pleased to release a standard to protect the most “highly at-risk workers.”
The ETS establishes new requirements for healthcare and healthcare support services while providing some exemptions for providers who screen out patients who may have COVID-19, according to a Department of Labor news release.
Employees covered by the standard include those working in:
- nursing homes and assisted living facilities
- emergency responders
- home healthcare workers, and
- employees in ambulatory care settings where suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients are treated.
Requirements for non-exempt facilities include:
- conducting a hazard assessment and having a written plan on mitigating virus spread
- providing certain employees with N95 respirators and other PPE
- ensuring 6 feet of distance between workers or erecting barriers between employees, if distancing isn’t possible, and
- providing employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
Further, employees who have COVID-19 must work remotely, or otherwise be separated from other workers if possible, or be given paid time off up to $1,400 per week.
Fully vaccinated workers are exempt from masking, distancing and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there’s no expectation anyone present is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register – which will be done as soon as possible, according to Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Jim Frederick – and employers must comply with most of the provisions within 14 days, with compliance with remaining provisions within 30 days.
Frederick also mentioned that OSHA will continue to monitor trends in COVID-19 data and make adjustments accordingly, if needed.
General industry guidance
OSHA’s new general industry guidance on COVID-19 is meant to help employers and workers not covered by the ETS to identify exposure risks to unvaccinated workers and help them take steps to prevent infection.
This covers employees who may not be able to get a vaccination due to pre-existing medical conditions.
The guidance document points out that unless otherwise required by other federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect fully vaccinated workers who aren’t otherwise at-risk from COVID-19 exposure.
So again, the guidance is focused only on protecting the unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees.